Walking In The Woods.
Oz looked around the familiar campground. "You know we're turning into Jim and Blair, right?" Xander snorted. "No, they said they camp to bond."
Xander shook his head as he walked, careful not to trip over an exposed tree root.. "We're not camping, we're living in coziness in the little cabin." He glanced over at his guide. "You've been awfully nice recently, about all of this, what's wrong?"
"Xander, I'm trying to be nice to you always." Oz sniffed, turning his head toward the way they had come. "Someone's burning cow." Xander shook his head. "Sorry, I've got three days left."
"So I noticed." Xander reached over, rubbing down his shoulder. "Now what?"
"Now we get all the bad things out so we don't have problems." Oz stopped them. "Listen, Xander, I know I haven't been the best Guide, but I'm trying, okay? I'm doing the best I can and I want to keep doing that."
"I'd like that," Xander told him quietly, brushing through the red hair, his newest hobby. "Matter of fact, we should talk. Darrien paid me a visit last night and said if I didn't talk to you he was going to send me into a zone that I won't come out of."
Oz went just a littler paler. "He told me you'd die if we didn't work it out," he admitted quietly. "I want us to work it out anyway." He gave his friend a hopeful look. "I really do. I miss having you there with me."
"Yeah, I kinda miss being your friend too." Oz removed his hands so Xander looked at him. "Sorry."
"No big, just feels funny." He smoothed his hair back down into it's usual style. "There, feels more me." He squeezed the hands and let them go. "Want to walk and talk or just walk?"
"We need to do some major talking," Xander said, stopping him from turning away. "There's lots you don't know about me and about who I am. I think you'll need that to control me."
Oz shook his head. "I don't control you, you aren't a dog on a leash. I help you get control. A Guide is a teacher, not a Master."
"If you say so."
"Oh, I do." Oz nudged him with his shoulder. "Come on, I need to work off lunch." They started walking again. "Does this mean I get to read your journal?"
"No, but I'll explain those pieces of art you don't understand yet." Xander's head shot up as his hearing spiked, listening to all the life around them. "Huh. Kids."
"Nearby or not?"
"Um, farther than the cabin. I can hear Devon complaining about not being able to get out of his room."
Oz shook his head. "I was almost sorry we couldn't get that cabin way back in the woods again, he would have loved it."
"Oz, if we had gotten that one, I would have had to chase the wolf. You work harder to get out when you're surrounded by nature."
"Really?" Xander nodded. "Huh. Didn't know that." He stopped them. "So, you're like the Guide to my Wolf?"
"Um...." Xander blushed. "Really?" Oz nodded. "Wow, um, okay." He hugged his guide and stepped back. "I think I can do that."
Oz reached up and ruffled Xander's hair. "There, payback." He turned them back toward the cabin, starting them walking that way. "I want to go sit on the porch swing with you and talk. Less bugs."
"Very true," Xander said, slapping a mosquito on Oz's bare arm. "You're turning french fry color."
Oz looked down at himself. "I am, aren't I. You're getting a nice tan too."
Xander looked down at himself. "Yeah, a little bit. Maybe I'll lay out tomorrow."
Oz stopped them just before they could see the cabin. "We okay?"
"My hearing's back down to normal." His guide gave him a look. "Yeah, we're going to be okay. We'll talk, you'll figure out I'm complicated, and we'll be fine. No more problems for a while."
Oz shook his head. "There's no happily ever after, Xan."
He grabbed Oz's arms, holding him still. "Hey, we survived, that's a happily ever after. Especially since we survived everything the Hellmouth threw at us and everything my senses have thrown at us."
Mike interrupted their happy moment, walking past them as fast as he could. "Sorry."
"No big," Oz said, releasing himself. "Xander?" He looked at his sentinel and groaned. "Xander?" he called softly, trying to bring him back to the present moment. The younger man took off running for the river, about a thousand yards away. Oz followed, making it in time to see his friend jump into the cold water, swimming out to catch a young woman who was flailing around. Oz ran out to help him once they came closer, taking off his shirt to cover her. "You okay?"
She nodded, shivering. "Thanks." She pulled Xander's head down and kissed him. "Thank you."
Xander blushed, nodding. "No problem."
Oz looked around, noticing Mike making a phone call. The drummer nodded at him, hanging up. "Someone will be here in a few minutes." He walked slowly over to Xander. "Wow, man, that was just...wow."
Oz nodded. "What I was going to say." He backed away as people came running. "Xan? Time to walk into the sunset."
Xander nodded. "Yeah." He smiled at the woman. "You'll be okay." He picked up Oz's shirt as the paramedics got there. "She wasn't under, just flapping and lost." He jogged after his guide. He silently handed over the wet shirt as he fell in step beside him on the trail. "Can I be shocked too?"
"Yup, I'd expect it." Oz rubbed over Xander's arm. "You can borrow Jim's cape later."
Xander chuckled. "I'm sure Blair would gladly hand it over." He stopped, the reality just hitting him. "I saved her, I heard her from way far away." Oz turned and nodded. "I *heard* her, Oz, from way far away." His guide nodded again. "I saved her?" he whispered, leaning against a tree.
Oz walked over, patting Xander's face. "She's fine and you did good." Xander looked at him, eyes unfocused. "Hey, come here, to me. You did good." The younger man nodded dumbly, grabbing him and holding on. "Shh, you did good," Oz whispered, rubbing Xander's back to help him focus. "That was amazing."
Xander nodded, pulling back. "I became Jim."
Oz shook his head. "You're not Jim. I wouldn't put up with Jim." Xander shook his head. "I wouldn't. The guy's really closed off and you have to fight with him to do things."
Xander grinned. " Okay, I won't become Jim."
"Good, because I'm not becoming Blair."
Xander picked up a lock of Oz's hair to look at. "You'd look funny with brunette curls."
Oz snorted, batting the hand away. "Xander!" he said in mock-disgust. "Come on, still want to talk with you."
They headed back to their cabin, side by side as it should be.
Xander set the plate down in front of Oz, sitting across from him, watching him check the Hamburger Helper. "What?"
"Checking for paint flecks." Xander grunted. "Sorry, habit."
"We could fix that," Xander reminded him, pointing his fork for emphasis.
"Sascha's not moving in," Oz said firmly.
"No but she could rent the downstairs."
"She's not really your mother, she has her own life."
"Yeah, but I expect she'll be over more often than not."
"Gonna quit being naked-boy artist?" Oz asked.
"She said she was okay with the idea. We talk too," Xander justified at the hurt look.
"Yup, you guys do a lot of that."
"Oh, food," Devon said, walking over to nibble on Xander's neck, making the younger man laugh as he was tickled. Oz threw a dirty, wet napkin at him. "Hey, you're messing up my prettiness."
Oz wetted another napkin in his water, balling it up. "Don't make me hit your hair."
"That's mean," Devon said, letting Xander go. "It takes me forever to do my hair now 'cause I can't use a mirror."
Xander looked up at him. "Don't pout."
"I won't," the vampire promised, then grinned at Oz. "I'm going out, if I run into your woman again should I kiss her for you?"
"Your lips *touch* Sascha and I'll go make a stake and a matchbox to bury you in," Oz said cooly.
"So cruel," Devon said, looking down at Xander. "You'll protect me, right?"
"Not if you lock lips with Sascha, any other time of course."
The singer waved them off. "I'll be nice to her. You guys are way over-protective." He walked out, waving over his shoulder. "Don't wait up."
"As if," Xander snorted. He looked at his guide. "Talking?"
"Yup, can't the next three nights."
"Point." Xander leaned back in his chair. "Topic?"
"Why do you need a topic?"
"Because I ramble."
"No topic, just tell me about yourself. Act like Blair just introduced us."
"Ummmmm," he hummed as he thought. "Okay. I'm Xander, an only child. I had a dog once but my father hit him with the car."
"I was six. He said it was an accident but he used to yell at him for protecting me. He used to throw shoes at him too."
"Dog ever bite him?"
"Two days before he was hit." Xander took a deep breath. "He was a... a..."
Oz tapped the table. "It's okay, you can't be hurt by him anymore."
"I know, but it still hurts."
"So jump ahead. How did you meet Willow?"
"Um, first day of Kindergarten. I was being shunned and she walked over, sat down in front of me, giving me one of her Sugar Daddy lollipops. She looked at me, tipping her head off to the side, and said 'you're strange so I like you'." Oz laughed. "Yeah. It was just so her. First day of school every year she'd look at me and ask if I was still strange. I usually just nodded and she'd say, 'good, then we can still be friends'."
Oz shook his head. "She was cool even then." He looked at the younger man. "Ever tell her no?"
"Our senior year. She started to cry so I told her it was a joke. She punched me on the chest, had a bruise for a few days."
Oz shook his head. "Such a Willow thing to do."
"Yup." Xander took a bite of his dinner and dropped the fork. "Cold."
Oz poked his plateful of food. "We don't need to eat." He looked up. "More talking?"
"Definitely." Xander led the way into the living room, then onto the porch when he found the couch filled with the other two members of Dingoes. He sat on the rickety swing, listening to the woods. Oz sat beside him, listening to the woods too. "Do you feel it calling?"
"The woods, are they calling to you?"
"Yeah," Oz admitted quietly. "I feel like I should be running through the woods naked. The call is *so* strong," he whispered. "If I wasn't so controlled, I'd be out there now."
"I'd go with you," Xander told him, "set up a home base, build a big fire." He turned his head to look at his guide. "You'd hunt and I'd guard you."
"Let's not," Oz whispered, reaching over to brush over the shadows on the younger man's face. "I don't want to hurt you."
"So don't," Xander said simply.
Oz felt drawn into the darker eyes, not even aware that he was moving closer until their lips connected. Their eyes closed as their hands joined, clutching tightly. Oz pulled back with a start, dropping Xander's hands. He turned his head and coughed.
"I'm sorry," Xander said, shifting away from him.
"Not you, it's me," Oz said, looking at the hands in his lap. "This isn't new to me, Xan, but I can't do this."
"Not with me," Xander finished flatly.
"Not with anyone," Oz amended, turning to him and laying a hand on his arm. "I can't really be with anyone. I've told Sascha that I'm taking us slow too." The younger man nodded silently. "It's a trauma in me, not you."
Xander kissed Oz's cheek. "I understand." He got up, heading out into the woods. "I'll be back before Devon is." He knew his guide was watching him but he needed to think. He found a big, flat rock to sit on and allowed his senses to search for Oz, his anchor, at the same time his mind wandered out on it's own, heading deeper into the dark areas where his desires lived.
Oz watched Xander go, his mind swirling with his own thoughts, breaking down barriers he had been trying to get past for months now. He curled up in the corner of the swing, trying to work through the roadblocks that came up now between the man he had been and the one he didn't like but had become.
Devon walked up the trail to the cabin, pausing briefly when he saw Oz sitting on the swing. He walked up to sit beside his oldest friend, moving the swing slowly. "What's up?" he asked quietly. When he didn't get an answer he looked at his guitarist, seeing the evidence of earlier tears. He wiped down one faint trail. "What happened?"
"I remember," Oz whispered. "I know what happened now." Devon pulled him closer. "When I first got to Cascade I filled in with a local band, not our sort of thing but they were okay to play with and I stayed with them while I found a place." He blinked, taking a slow breath. "My next to last night there, we partied." Devon groaned. "Yeah, just like we used to do. I felt so *safe*," he whispered. "I didn't remember what happened until tonight."
"Why?" Devon asked, respecting the quiet.
Oz snorted, leaning into his friend's cool body. "Xander and I got close tonight, *very* close, and it felt so *right*." He looked at his oldest friend. "It felt so right, Dev, the thing between us. When I had to stop, he walked out into the woods. Watching him go brought back the blocks that came down really easily." He went back to watching the woods. "He's still out there somewhere. Probably listening to me."
"He's not that far away, I can tell," Devon said, sniffing the air. "Xander!" he called softly. "Come to bed, Oz needs you to make him warm again. He's chilled real badly."
Xander came out of the woods after a few moments, looking at them. "Huh?" He jogged up the stairs, sitting beside Oz and pulling him against his body, wrapping an arm around him. "You're cold," he said, rubbing over his t-shirt clad shoulder. "Come on, we need to make you warm."
Devon looked at Oz and grinned. "Gotta love the sentinel protective stuff." He got up, opening the door for them. "Inside."
Xander got up, walking Oz with him into the slightly older man's room. He got him stripped and under the thick blankets, tucking them around him, then stepped back to watch him.
Oz patted the bed, holding up one side. "Slide in." Xander didn't move. "Yo, you, get in." Xander blinked at him. "Good morning, come on, you need to get warm too."
Xander stripped down to his boxers and t-shirt, climbing in beside his guide. "Um, how..." He shook his head. "Never mind."
"You went protective on me," Oz said, rolling to hug him. "Devon told you I was cold so you ran to come help."
Xander shivered. "Whatever." He hugged his guide, snuggling down into him. "You are cold." Oz nodded. "So am I."
"It's time to sleep," Devon said from the door. "Even good little vampires are going to bed."
"And you'll be up for how much longer?" Xander asked, turning to smile at him.
Devon shook his head. "I'm a good boy too, Xander, and I'm going to bed." He shut the room's door, his footsteps heading across the hall to the room they had made sun-proof for him.
"Were you listening to me?" Oz asked.
"On some level that didn't mean listening. I kept track of your heartbeat and stuff to make sure no wild squirrel came out to eat you." Oz snorted. "I was lost in my own thoughts but I had a check on you that would have made me come out of them if something had changed."
"So you heard Dev?"
"Not a word of it. I tend to filter personal conversations out, it's the nice thing to do."
"Ah." Oz said, laying his head on Xander's shoulder. "I broke the blocks tonight." He could feel the nod and the warm hands started to rub gently down his back. "You're really warm."
"Jim said it's a Sentinel thing. It's so our Guides can always be warm, even in the coldest of weather. He said there's a reason why Guides are always cold and Blair wears a third of his wardrobe daily."
"Oh. Okay. When did he say that?"
"Our day in the hardware store. We did a lot of 'why we're like this' talking."
"Want to talk about it?" Xander asked quietly, giving his guide a little squeeze.
"Not really but I should." He sat up, looking down at his friend. "You know how the guys party, right?" Xander nodded. "Well, when I first came to Cascade, I hooked up as a temporary guitarist for a country band." The younger man shuddered. "Not that bad, mostly love songs. Nothing about dogs or pickups in sight." That got a small smile. "Anyway, my next to last night at their place, we partied. Hard. And I didn't remember what happened, only that I woke up at the Police station the next day with Blair looking at me."
"Really wow. Someone who had figured out that what came out about Jim was really the truth called him because I was awake but I wouldn't acknowledge anyone. He came down to see if I was zoned."
"And you were lost in your head?" Xander asked quietly, picking up the older man's hand to squeeze. "Oz, whatever happened wasn't your fault. Even if you asked for it. I doubt you were in any shape to protest or consent."
"Not at all," Oz said, looking down at where their hands were joined. "Found out I had been drugged, really heavily drugged. Blair had them take me to the hospital when he figured it out. The lab report was seven pages long." Xander winced. "Yeah, so it wasn't an isolated incidence."
"Oz, which part of the report?" The older man went pale. "Oh, God, Oz," he whispered, sitting up and pulling his guide into a hug. "So sorry," he whispered, "so very sorry that happened." He tried to pull back but found the strong arms wrapped around his chest, Oz hanging on for dear life. He stroked through the red hair. "This wasn't your fault, Oz, none of it. You didn't ask them, you were drugged and I doubt you asked to be drugged."
Oz sat back up, shaking his head. "I never take drugs, not more than an occasional joint with Dev." He wiped off his face with their joined hand. "I didn't want to lay that on you."
"Hey, this is what friends are for," Xander said, making him look up at him. "I want to know this so I can help you. If I don't know then I make mistakes, like earlier."
"No," Oz said forcefully. "That wasn't a mistake, that was our bond coming out." He tweaked Xander's nose. "That was what's meant to be between us, not wrong."
"No, you did it really well," Oz said, earning a small smile. "See? No more depressing stuff."
"Oz, if you want to talk, I'm here. Whenever. Feel free to interrupt my painting and everything." Xander kissed the end of Oz's nose. "Now then, Devon was right, time for all good little boys to be in bed so let's get you tucked back in."
Oz snorted. "You're more of a good boy than I am. I tried to recapture what I used to be and almost ended up splitting us."
Xander shook his head. "Nothing you say will ever make me leave you. We'd have worked it out. The bad-drug guys would have come sooner and you would have come to keep me here and we would have been talking sooner." He pushed the older man back against the pillows, making sure he was fully covered. "Do you want me in here?" he asked quietly, fussing with the quilt.
"Get your butt down here," Oz growled. "You're warm and I'm not." That got a smile and a warm body laying next to his. Oz allowed himself to wrap around his sentinel's warm flesh, pulling him closer. "Night, Xan, thanks."
"Anytime," Xander whispered, closing his eyes, soothed by the sounds around him.
Xander walked behind Oz out to breakfast, rubbing his eyes, not real aware of the world around him. Tom whistled and he glared at him. "What?" he asked grumpily, sitting down in the chair he had claimed as his, which incidentally had views of both doors and most of the window entries.
Tom waved a hand at the Snoopy boxers. "Fashion statement of the week. Good look on you."
Xander looked down at his boxers and shrugged. "We all have our fun side, mine's just more out there."
"Be thankful he's wearing clothes," Oz pointed out, handing Xander a glass of milk. "Drink."
"Yes, Oz," Xander said, drinking it slowly. "Want me to cook?"
"I can cook oatmeal and toast. Really," Oz countered. "Did you want something else?"
"No, that's good," Xander said, turning to look at the two silent members of the band. "What's wrong?" he asked them, drinking some more of his milk, really relaxed now.
"Just wondering what's really going on between you two," Mike, the drummer, said. He looked at Oz. "You guys act, like, *married* or something."
Oz shuddered. "Shut up or wear this oatmeal."
"Sorry," Mike said, grinning, "but you guys do act that way. You fight over things like you're together, you're all cuddly together. You guys even..." He stopped as Devon walked out to glare at him. "Morning, sunshine, isn't it way early for you to be moving around?"
"Leave them alone," Devon said quietly, leaning against a wall. "This is the way its supposed to be between what they are. Xander needs to be cuddled to keep a balance and Oz has to do it so Xander doesn't flip and become super-guardian again. No one wants him to stalk Oz to protect him, right?" Everyone shook their heads. "Then leave them alone. But, Xan, I do agree, cutesy for you." He grinned, heading for the bedroom, tapping Mike to follow him.
Oz looked at the boxers the younger man was wearing. "Huh, wondered where those went." Tom choked on his milk. "What? We share laundry loads to save money." He put down a bowl of oatmeal in front of their chairs, putting a plate of toast between them. "Eat."
"Okay." Xander grabbed some of the sugar from the middle of the table, pouring it liberally over the plain oatmeal. "Thanks."
Tom wiped his chin off and looked at them. "Whatever," he said, getting up and heading after Devon and Mike with a muttered, "maybe Dev eating me will make it seem normal."
Xander looked at Oz and grinned, snorting. Oz nodded, drinking his own milk. "Worked," Xander whispered.
"Yup. Very well. No more comments. Eat."
Xander shoveled some more of the oatmeal into his mouth, eating quickly. "Want the shower?" he asked, scraping his bowl.
"Why? I thought we were going to walk together?"
"Because you take lots of hot water." Oz nodded, a hint of a smile coming out. "And I want to soak."
"You're going to clean the bathtub?"
"No, I'm going to stand under the hot water and use it all," Xander said, getting up and leaving as quickly as he could, chased by Oz to the bathroom door, not quite able to make it inside and shut the door before his guide got in. "Hey, it's my turn to use all the water," Xander complained.
Tom stuck his head out of Devon's room. "Just shower together and get it over with." He slammed the door once he was inside.
Xander shuddered. "Eww! That's like sharing dirt."
Oz shook his head. "Can be fun and educational." He waved at the shower. "Go ahead." He walked out, heading to clean up their breakfast mess.
"Oz," Xander whispered, "was that an interest or a note?"
"Why?" he asked, not turning around.
Xander walked up behind his friend, stopping him and taking the dirty dishes to set aside. "Because I wanted to know. We need to set the boundaries between us again. I'm crossing the line a lot recently in my head and you sound like you're edging toward it again." The slightly older man nodded, closing his eyes and resting against him, silently pulling Xander's arms around his waist. "Hey, if this bothers you, just tell me and I'll stop and ignore it."
"I don't want you to ignore it but I'm not sure where I want it to go."
"Then it won't go anywhere." Xander dropped a quick kiss on top of Oz's head. "Would you, maybe, like to come talk to me while I shower? We could discuss and everything."
"Let us leave first," Mike called, dragging Tom with him. "Dev's out to the world and we're going swimming."
"Be careful," Xander called, not looking at them. He was still focused entirely on Oz. "Up to you, I'm not going to push, even before last night."
"I know," Oz said, pulling back to look at him. "You've been real good about keeping it to yourself too."
"Yeah, I have, haven't I?" Xander said with a little smirk. He looked toward the bathroom then back down at his guide. "Up to you, always."
"Then I'd like to talk to you while you shower. It's a nice middle ground."
"Fence sitting? Doesn't that hurt your butt after a while?" Xander joked, leading the way into the bathroom after letting his guide go.
Oz groaned and spanked him. "Depends on the fence. Gotta watch the picket ones, they try to have their way with you."
Xander's mouth hung open. "Oz!" he screeched. "So bad." He shook his head, turning to turn on the shower, turning again as the elastic on his boxers was snapped. "Man, you're playful."
"Not at all, just wanted a little warning," Xander said, turning and pulling off his shirt. "Um, how...."
"See, it's a shower. You strip and climb in, then you pick up the soap...." Oz stopped as Xander grabbed him to tickle. "Xander! Stop that!"
"Please," Devon called from his room.
Xander snorted, giggling hard and pulling them both to the floor. "Wow, we woke up the good-boy vamp." That set off another set of Oz laughter, almost silent in it's intensity. He hugged his guide hard against him, rocking them. "I like you like this. You're not so controlled and closed off," he said quietly.
"I like being me."
"Yeah, I like this version of you too. I like the quietOz but I really like this Oz, the one that jokes and plays with me."
"Yeah, I kinda like him too, but he only comes out when I'm real secure about my position and surroundings."
"Hey, I'm security-guy, just ask. Solid as a rock and about as thick." That got him pinched. "What?"
"No more putting Xander down, he's a good guy," Oz told Xander. "I like him, he makes me feel comfy."
"That's the nicest compliment I've been given in ages." He squeezed Oz again then moved him onto the floor so he could stand up. "I'm going to enjoy what little hot water is left. Feel free to talk to me if you'd like."
"Yeah, I would," Oz said. He didn't look away as Xander stripped, his mind clear now from the demons that made him ashamed to like to look at men. "You've gotten built this summer," he said, touching one slightly raised arm muscle. "Good look for you."
Xander blushed, climbing into the shower behind the fish print shower curtain. "Thanks." He drew the curtain almost all the way, it was too small and he made sure the gap was in the back to reduce the water falling out of the tub. "How you feeling?" he asked.
Oz grunted. "Better actually. No more mental critters." He sat on the edge of the sink. "You?"
"Fine. My senses are a little sharper but I've lowered what I considered normal. And I found out that my sight does have a lever, it's set near the top normally."
Oz squinted while he thought. "You can do finer detail work?"
"Yup." Xander's shadow turned against the pale blue curtain. "Looks like I may be able to someday."
"How about the other ones?"
"Little sharper, little clearer. Like fine tuning a radio station. Was clear, now in surround stereo, and a lot louder like the sound at the movies as opposed to watching it at home on video."
"Huh. Okay." Oz slid off, leaning against the sink now. "How do you feel?"
"Really okay," he lied, conveniently forgetting about the two week long headache he had had since being discharged from the hospital. He winced as the shower curtain was hit with something. "What?"
"Didn't anyone ever tell you werewolves had heightened senses when we're about to change?" Oz asked, sticking his head into the shower. A wet washcloth landed on his head. "Keep it up, Xander, and find consequences."
"Oooh, punishment," Xander mocked, turning away from him. "You said slow," he reminded as the shower curtain closed again. He made a startled squeak as warm arms went around his waist. "Oz, that had better be you."
"Yup, me." He turned Xander to face him. "See, I'm much better, more able to deal."
"So I can see." Xander tried really hard not to appreciate the view in front of him but his eyes eventually had to wander down the compact, tightly built body in front of him. Oz caught him at it, giving him a little smile. "What's going on? Is this a really good dream or some side effect of the serum?"
Oz shook his head. "No, just felt that you'd like some contact." Xander nodded, swallowing hard. "So I was right?"
"Yeah, I wanted a hug since you crawled out of bed." He wrapped his arms around his friend's body, holding on and letting the water run over them both. "Thank you," he whispered a few minutes later, letting go.
"No big," Oz told him, wiping some water off his sentinel's face. "This still isn't couply sort of stuff to me," he said after a pause. "This is bonding and friend stuff."
"Got it, not sexual but still cuddling." Oz nodded, looking very relieved. "So where do we stand?"
"We stand wherever it's most comfortable for us," Oz told him quietly, then backed out of the shower. He got dressed and headed into their bedroom to pull on some clothes. He didn't look at the naked Xander that walked in a few minutes later, or at the dark shape that followed him. He actually tried to ignore the dark shape that followed the naked, dripping Xander, not wanting to talk about Spirit Guides when they were finally getting themselves back on track. But the little mixed up cat-like creature sat in the middle of the bed and nodded at him, flashing a very white and toothy grin. "Um, Xander, turn around," he said, pointing.
Xander looked under his arm and groaned. "Darrien, inconvenient timing." He pulled on a shirt over his shorts, sitting down behind his Spirit Guide. Oz sat down on the other side of the bed, waiting while the cat turned into a dark haired man that they both knew.
"Hey," Darrien said, lying between them. He pulled Oz closer, resting them both against Xander's clothed body. "This is good."
"True," Oz said, "but this is the whole."
"Not really," Darrien said. "There's much more than this."
"Yeah, but we're not participating in the rest," Xander told him. "We're comfy with where we are and we're staying on our little point of the fence."
"Picket?" Oz asked.
Xander nodded. "Has to be, can't you feel the point?"
Darrien shook his head. "Boys, this is straight from Wolf, who got the message from Blair. You guys have got to bond soon. As in really bond. Not this little one you share but the whole thing. Those people won't give up now that they know Xander survived." He faded out, leaving the guys holding each other. "No one can break the bond if you want it to be unbroken," floated down after he was gone.
Xander looked at Oz and shook his head. "You want to?"
"No," Oz said flatly. "If it happens, it does, if not; we'll deal."
"Sounds fair enough."
"Good." Xander got off the bed, grabbing an overshirt and his sneakers. "Walking?" he asked.
"Yup." Oz crawled across the bed, sitting on the edge to pull on his own shoes. "We gonna talk?"
"No, I want to enjoy nature. And you could use the destressing."
Oz nodded. "Good point. We can clean the van out later." He stood up, waving Xander to head out first. "Apres vous."
"Ah, man, not French," Xander complained. "That tape is starting to give me nightmares."
"Hey, French is a good language, and I needed something to put my mind on."
"Blair," Xander accused. "You're turning into Blair."
"Not," Oz said firmly, giving him a little push. "If I'm Blair then you're Jim, do you really want that?"
"No," Xander said, shaking his head. "Not me. No, I'm not Jim, nor will I become Jim. I refuse to be Jim."
Oz patted his arm. "I understand. Let's walk."
Xander and Oz walked down the path they had been walking for two weeks, staying silent so the calmness of the woods around them could seep into them. Finally, Xander couldn't take the silence anymore. "Did you have any pets?" he asked out of the blue. Oz grunted and nodded. "What sort?"
"Used to have fish," Oz told him, "and my mom had a cat once." He glanced at his friend. "You really can't stand silence, can you?" Xander shook his head. "Try upping your hearing."
Xander stopped, slowly shifting the lever for his hearing up. He flinched as the rustling leaves started to sound like they were tearing through the air like propellers. He felt Oz walk up in front of him but he was fighting the lever. Every time he got it down a little, it jumped out of his control and headed higher. A warm hand touched his chest and that helped slow it some but it still kept trying to climb.
"Xander," Oz whispered, grabbing his hand. "Xan, come on, you can do this." He saw bandmates down the path. "Guys? Little help?" he called. They either ignored him or didn't hear him. "Damn. Okay, got to deal. Xander, come on, don't zone. Come back, come on, fight the pain."
Xander whimpered, grabbing his head. "No, make it stop," he pleaded. He grabbed onto Oz's body, clinging to him. "Please make it stop."
"Shh," Oz whispered, rubbing the younger man's back. He stopped as a family of four walked past. "Migraine," he explained. The parents nodded and hurried their two boys on. "Xander," Oz said, squeezing him. "Come on, focus on another sound and turn it down." He got a suddenly limp body in his arms, laying the younger man on the leaves when he couldn't hold him up anymore. "Xander," he sing-songed softly. "Come on, focus on me instead."
Mike jogged up to them. "What's wrong?"
"He's zoned. Help me get him back to the cabin." He lifted Xander's upper body, grunting at the weight.
The drummer picked up the sentinel's legs, starting down the path backwards. "TOM!" he yelled, bringing the bassist running. He helped by holding up the sagging middle.
They got Xander inside on their bed, leaving the guide to deal with it. As soon as the door shut, Oz was pulling off Xander's t-shirt, laying down to hold him closer. "Xander?" he whispered, squeezing him. He sat up quickly, pulling off his own shirts and curling up around him again, hoping the skin-to-skin contact would help him focus better. "Xander, focus on me, let your hearing focus on my heartbeat and grab control."
Xander heard Oz, but it was faint. He followed the trail of the soft, warm sound, making hurt noises when it stopped. The soothing touches came back so he turned up his sense of touch to capture more of it. When it moved, he lunged toward it, making it say with him.
Oz grunted as Xander's body hit him and wrapped itself around him. "Okay, Xander." He got a small noise in response. "Xander?" The body wrapped tighter around him. "Come on, it's time to find reality, you're scaring me." The younger man's head rubbed it's way up to his throat and Oz tried to push him away. "Xander! Breathing is a good, really." He wiggled out from under the rubbing head. "Thank you." The head followed him and he figured it out. He shifted them down so he could whisper in Xander's ear. "Hey, did you need to hear me? Is my voice your benchmark?" He paused for a second. "Come on, Xan, it's time to come back now. The bad noises can't hurt you. You have to come back now, you're scaring me." The ear pressed against his lips so he gently kissed it, giving him another gentle squeeze. "Come on, I need you here, I know you can find your way back."
Xander sighed, his eyes fluttering open. "Oz?" he whispered. He tried to move but was held still, the older man's breath tickling his ear.
"You back?" Oz whispered. He got a small nod. "You okay?"
"Yeah." He hugged his guide. "Am I okay here?"
"Yeah," Oz told him, letting Xander move but not far. Xander nodded when he was comfortable. "What happened?"
"My levers rebelled and the noise got me. The leaves were *ripping* through my head and it was all I could get." He snuggled in closer. "I didn't hurt you?"
"No, we're good." Oz relaxed some, letting him back away if he wanted. "We've been good, why are they doing this now?"
Xander moved so he was snuggled in the strong arms. "I don't know, it just is."
"Are you feeling worried?" The younger man shook his head. "Emotional?"
"No, none of Jim's set-off cues." Xander pulled his head up. "I wasn't stressed or anything, it just happened." He gave him a small, hurt look. "Can we just move on?" Oz nodded so he relaxed and put his head back down.
"Want to try something," Oz said quietly. "Turn it up slowly. Check your control."
Xander nodded, slowly turning up his hearing, letting his hearing spread out as he imagined it to be a slowly spreading pool. He ignored the two men in the living room's conversation. He let it thin out more, letting the outside sounds flow in. He flinched as a child ran past the cabin screaming, withdrawing back within the wood walls. His hearing closed in on the two men's conversation.
//This is way weird, Mike, Xander's a freak.//
Mike groaned. //Man, he didn't ask for this, this was forced on him.//
//Not the point. I'm just saying it's weird. Like X-Files sort of strange.//
//You gonna go running to the press?//
//Me?// Tom snorted. //Who'd believe it? I'm just suggesting we *use* it. Get him to scope the chicks for us, maybe let him check on people's opinions of us, maybe even...//
Xander turned it back down, missing Mike's negation of the idea. "Xander?" Oz asked.
"Just ignoring the guys."
"What were they saying?" He rubbed down the tense back when there wasn't an answer coming. "What?"
"Tom wants me to get him women." Xander pulled away, curling up on his side, looking at his guide. "I don't want to eavesdrop."
"Good." Oz rolled to face him. He nodded toward the door. "Come in."
Mike walked in and handed over stacked plates of sandwiches and chips, gently removing the glass he was holding against his chest and the one in his hand. "Need anything?"
"Just a question," Oz said softly. "You in with Tom?"
Mike sat on the edge of the bed, shaking his head. "Didn't know you could do that when you were furry. I'm not going to abuse Xander."
"Thanks," Xander said, reaching over to pat his hand, which twitched. He withdrew to eat his peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Oz gave Mike a long, hard look. "We okay?" Mike nodded and got up, giving them some privacy so he turned to look at his guideling. "He won't use you, and Tom's not going to use you either. You're not a tool."
Xander nodded, leaning closer. "Thanks." He finished his sandwich, snuggling next to Oz's body. "I need a nap," he whispered. Oz shifted so he was a more comfy pillow. "Thanks."
"Hey, it's all good." He put their plates off the bed, curling around the younger man. "Sleep, I'll be here," he promised. He fell asleep too, comforted by the warm body against him.
Oz woke up panting in pain as the change started to hit him. "Xander," he groaned, rolling off the bed clutching his stomach.
Xander looked at him then hopped up, running out to the livingroom. No one. Not even Devon. He groaned, rubbing his face. "They're not here," he called, looking around for something to bind Oz with. He heard the muted scream and flinched, his innate senses making him run back to their room, sliding beside Oz to hold him, no matter how much he was pushed away. "Shh, you'll be okay," he soothed.
The front door slammed. "Anyone here?" Devon called.
"Dev!" Oz yelled. "Come get him!" He managed to get away, pulling himself in a corner.
"Crap!" Devon said, walking in. "I forgot about your thing." He pulled Xander away, looking down at the fighting body. "Huh, primal guy's back. Want to head somewhere indestructible?" Oz nodded, holding himself. Devon let Xander go and immediately they were both beside the werewolf. Devon turned, slapping Xander hard. "Snap out of it, dude." He picked Oz up, carrying him out of the room and into the bathroom. He tossed all of the shampoo, soap, cologne, and anything else that might hurt the wolf if he got into it, into a trash can then pushed it out of the room. He took all of Oz's clothes and jewelry, backing away from him as he finished changing. "Night, Oz," he whispered, closing the door before the altered form could get out. He tripped over Xander's still form, sprawling on the floor. "Xan!" he whined.
"Shh, watching," he whispered.
Devon marveled at the lack of any emotion in the younger man. He couldn't smell any, couldn't see any, and he knew there was no way he could cure this. He got up with a groan. "Xander, you watch, I'm going to r...do something." He headed for his room, locking himself in.
Tom and Mike walked in laughing, joking, and playing with each other. They stopped cold when they walked into the hall, almost running into the man sitting on the floor. "Umm, Xander?" Tom said.
"Shh, watching," he whispered.
Mike nodded. "Okay." He started to walk past him but Xander jumped up and grabbed him. "I need to use it."
"No, can't go in there."
"It's the bathroom," Mike said patiently, his face showing his confusion. No one had ever told him this stuff was part of the sentinel thing too.
"It's too risky, you can't."
"It's the *bathroom*," Mike said again, trying to be patient now. Oz's growl floated out and his face cleared instantly. "Oookay," he said, backing away from the portal. "Why'd you put furboy in the bathroom?"
Devon opened his door, leaning against it's frame. "Would that be like the question 'where were we going to put him since you guys had the van'?"
Tom groaned. "Sorry, we forgot." The vampire nodded. "We forgot, Dev, it's an accident."
Devon snorted. "You put it out of your mind, admit it."
Tom nodded. "We forgot." He looked at the bathroom door. "Where do we use the facilities?"
"Woods?" Devon suggested dryly. Both men turned and walked out of the cabin. "Hope you get poison oak," he muttered. He looked at Xander, who was now rubbing his fingertips over the wood of the door. "He in there?"
Xander nodded, looking up and giving him a brilliant smile. "He's resting against the door."
Devon nodded, heading back into his room. "You watch."
Oz groaned, blinking up at the overhead light. "Why am I in the bathroom?" He got himself up, turning on the water to splash his face. He felt himself be grabbed and relaxed into the petting hands. "I'm fine, Xander," he told him. He was turned and the petting hands worked down his chest and legs. "Xander! Stop it," he warned.
"He went all watcher last night," Devon called from his room.
"Wonderful," Oz said dryly, grabbing and holding the petting hands. "He's gone, Xander, get over it."
Xander blinked at him. "Not here?"
"No, the wolf is gone. Everyone's safe," Oz said quietly. He let go of the hands to pat the younger man's cheek. The hands came back to pat down his arms and chest again. "Relax, it's me, we're okay." Xander flowed into his guide's body, pressing them together as he blindly sought a kiss. He let Oz's lips go, laying his head on the bony, bare shoulder. He kept sniffing at the bare neck, taking little licks every now and then. Oz groaned. "How long have you been like this?" he asked loud enough for the vampire to hear too.
Devon walked in, looking at them. "He sat outside the door all night, watching." He nodded at the sentinel and Oz nodded back, so he grabbed the relaxed body, picking him up to carry him and place him on the shared bed. "Nap," he said firmly.
Oz walked over, crawling in beside Xander. He grunted in annoyance as he was surrounded by warm flesh. "Nap," he repeated, just as firmly. Xander nodded, starting to snore after a few seconds. Oz rolled his eyes. "Did they have a..." He had to stop to push Xander's head off his lips. "Good reason?"
"Party," Devon said, rubbing his head as he walked out, closing the door behind him.
Oz slapped Xander's shoulder. "Don't do that again."
"Torry," Xander whispered, moving to lay on his own.
Oz wrapped himself around Xander's stiff body, soothing him. "Nap, we'll talk later." He got a nod and the still body relaxed in his arms. "Night."
Xander woke up to find Oz staring at him. "What did I do now?" he asked, yawning as he rolled onto his side.
"Besides taking a long grope?" Xander closed his eyes, pulling a pillow over his head, which Oz stole and hit him with. "You spazzed."
"No, not you are a spaz, you did spaz," Devon corrected as he walked in. "I gotta cut back on this awake crap, I feel funny." He crawled in behind Xander, wrapping himself around him. "You're really warm."
"And you're clammy. Get off!" Xander got away from him. "You feel fishy, wet and clammy."
Devon grinned. "I just got out of the shower."
Oz shook his head, picking up the other pillow to beat them both. "Stop. Xander, you went into Blessed Protector mode. Devon, quit tormenting Xander with your nudity."
"I'm not Jim," Xander said quietly.
"You went still and watched the bathroom all night," Devon said. "It was creepy."
"I'm sorry my problems bother you," he said, getting out of the bed and walking out of the room.
Oz winced at the slammed door. "Xander!" he yelled.
"Guys, less info about your sex life," Tom called from the room he was sharing with Mike.
Oz got out of the bed, stalking over to their room and tossed the door open. "Shut up. We're not together." He glared at them. "Willing to die?"
Mike shook his head. "It was an accident, Oz, we didn't mean to deprive you of the van." He pushed himself up, looking his bandmate over. "Um, laundry problems?"
Oz shrugged. "More comfy."
"Not for some of us," Tom muttered.
"Out, no fighting," Mike said quietly. "We're out of whatever Oz has and he's not in ours."
"Whatever," Tom sighed.
"Out, Oz," Mike said in that same quiet tone, his eyes pleading for him to not be hurt.
Oz nodded, heading back into his and Xander's room to pull on a pair of jeans and his sneakers. He headed out of the cabin, using the advantages his lycanthropy gave him during his change to find his sentinel. He tracked his scent, the tangy/anger mixed with light/hurt and the underlying weave that was Xander's scent, following the trail and ending up in a small clearing overlooking the river that ran through the campground. He simply sat beside the younger man, sharing the view.
Xander finally relaxed, his body leaning closer to his friends's. "I don't know what's wrong," he said quietly. "I didn't want to." Oz nodded, lifting his arm to let him get closer. "I can't control the stuff anymore."
"So we'll work on it."
"I don't think it'll help anymore. I'm back to before we got together." He shifted a little closer, seeking the comfort his guide rarely begrudged him. "I can't get control, it's like it's slipping through my fingers every time I grab for the levers."
"We'll deal, we always do," Oz said, squeezing him. "We expected problems and this is minor compared to what I expected."
"How do we fix it?"
Oz looked down at the younger man's head. "Practice." He let his own senses roam. "How many heartbeats do you hear?" Xander shook his head. "Nudge your hearing up to seven or so."
Xander pulled back, his face showing guilt. "Normal is lower now," he admitted, his head going down. "It's around two now."
Oz thought for a moment then nodded. "Okay, two is normal so we'll inch it up to find new limits." Xander nodded. "Where's it set now?"
"Lever's not locked in at two, it's resting between two and three." He shook his head. "I don't think the lever imagery's going to work, there's too much of a gap and no fine tuning. That may be most of the problem."
"Hmm, can we change it?" Xander shrugged. "Wanna try?"
The younger man shifted, laying his head on Oz's lap. "Okay. Do you know the code words to put me under?"
"Let's try it normally. Hypnosis can be dangerous." Xander nodded, closing his eyes. "Okay. Picture your levers." Xander's face wrinkled up as he concentrated then he relaxed and nodded. "Rip them out, we're putting in an equalizer."
Xander grinned, eyes still closed. "An equalizer? Like with a remote, the one on your cd player?"
Xander nodded, his arms coming up to show what he was doing. He grunted, breaking out in a light sweat.
"Relax," Oz reminded him. "You're trying too hard." He pushed the strong arms back down. "Find the bolts." Xander grunted, nodding. He smiled a few seconds later, making a 'tossing aside' motion. "Done?"
"Yup, but a blank plate with wires."
"Be sure, Xan."
"Five wires, different colors, and one bare little wire."
"What's the last one for?"
"It's the grounding one," Xander said patiently. Oz groaned. "Sorry."
"S'okay. Now picture my stereo's equalizer." Xander nodded. "Drop it in, making sure the wires aren't caught under it." Xander waved a hand. "What's that mean?"
"I was pushing my helper back so it's fur didn't get caught."
"Nope, the teddy bear he gave me."
"Nope, this was pre-Rupert bear." Xander rolled his shoulders. "I got it to take your place while we were fighting. Okay, got the ground wire hooked and secured on."
"Describe the others. And the plugs," Oz added.
"Orange, red, green, blue, and teal, with matching plugs."
"Which is which?"
"Blue is touch, teal is taste, green is smell, red is hearing, and orange is sight."
Oz nodded. "Makes sense. Hook 'em up."
Xander grinned. "Did. That's how I found out what they were." He pushed up against the hand that came down to run through his hair. "Nice."
"Good. Wanna test?" Xander nodded. "Okay, equalize them at five."
"How many heartbeats nearby?"
Xander inched his hearing up. "Ten, six really fast." He opened his eyes. "We have people spying."
"Their problem, ignore it. How up is it?"
"Six and three-quarters." Xander snuggled back down onto the ready legs. "I found the remote but it doesn't have batteries." He grinned again as his nose was tweaked.
"Batteries are your desire to control them."
"Oh." Xander's smile slowly brightened and when he opened his eyes, Oz had an answering smile for him. "It works." He flipped over and hugged his guide hard before getting up to dance around singing, 'it works, it works' over and over.
Oz just let him go before bringing up the next problem. "Xan? Furry things need discussed," he said quietly, bringing the younger man instantly to his side. "You can't do last night again."
"I know," Xander said as he sat down close enough to rest his head on the tense shoulder. "My inner sentinel and your inner furry guy haven't ever gotten along. I used to sit and pretend to paint while you sat watching me from the corner of your cage. We had this stand-off across the loft going."
"Really." Xander rolled until he was on his back, looking up at his guide. "You sniffed and stared, I got uptight when you growled, and you growled to make me jump." Oz snorted and almost smiled. "You do, and last night, I remember you moving away from and closer to the door. You laid on the other side and sniffed and shifted."
Oz nodded. "I'm going to be in the van tonight."
"If you want." Xander wiggled closer until his head was back on Oz's leg. "Want me to sit up with you?"
"No, you need to sleep. I'll have Dev watch over me."
They both turned their heads as someone walked out of the woods into their clearing. "Hi," Willow said shyly, slowing down the closer she got. "Tara suggested we, um, talk. So can we?"
Xander got up. "You guys talk, I won't listen." He touched Willow's arm as he walked past. He saw Sascha inside the cabin so hurried up, jogging up the stairs to give her a hug. "What're you doing here?"
"I drove Willow out," she said, squeezing him. "How are you doing?"
"Oz helped me put in an equalizer with a remote." He pulled her down onto the couch. "I zoned last night on his furriness." He looked up as the other band members walked past. "Guys, we gotta clear the van for Oz later."
Tom groaned. "We need to go visit civilization."
"You're rather have him eat people?" Sascha asked dryly.
"No," Mike said. "Let's do that now and we'll be back by supper."
"Okay," Sascha said, getting up.
"It's a lot of heavy stuff," Tom warned, jingling the keys.
She snorted. "Women aren't fragile, boys, we can lift things all by ourselves."
Xander stood up. "Let's not argue, I don't need the headache." He headed out to the van, opening the back. "Damn. Guys, where's the equipment?"
Mike hopped off the porch and jogged over. "Oh, man, where did we put it?"
Devon walked out to the door, shaking his head. "I had them lock it in a storage room, dudes. The campground guys were really nice about it." He smiled at Sascha. "Hey, chic, back again?"
"Yup, had to bring Willow." Devon shuddered. "To settle things so everyone could move on." He nodded so she smiled at him. "Xander, drive me to town?" she asked, turning the smile on him.
"Sure," he said, pulling out his keys.
"How are we going to visit civilization?" Tom whined.
"Not in my truck," Xander retorted, sliding into the driver's seat.
Oz looked at Willow, watching her tear up pieces of grass. "So," he said finally.
"So," she agreed. "Were you happy when you left?" she asked after a few more minutes of silence.
"No, but I had to." She nodded, still not looking at him. "I did love you," he admitted.
"Yeah, me too." She looked up and smiled at him. "But I've moved on."
"Yeah, me too. Sascha's great."
"And you have Xander."
"Point. We share an apartment."
"You boss him around," she added.
"Oh, yeah." He nodded. "Diet and life monitor am I." She laughed again. "And part-time art critic."
She shook her head. "I never even realized he drew, much less that he was good."
"He's great. Sold a few and everything."
"Giles wrote me about his problems with the Art department," she mentioned seemingly-casually. "He writes every few weeks. He's good about keeping me up to date on you guys." Oz nodded. "He's trying to get us to do our graduate studies at Rainier."
Oz grunted. "That might be nice." She nodded. "So, you have a Tara now?"
Willow smiled. "We met at a Wiccan's meeting, she was the only other real witch." Oz nodded for her to go on. "We're happy. We fit well. She's quiet and sweet, and I get to be he-Willow sometimes." He smiled. "Wow, you never did that."
"I've loosened up some. Blair and Xander have both made me." She giggled. "Yeah, I fought but they forced me to change."
She smiled. "It sounds cool though. You sound happy."
"Am, but Xander's a hard one to guide. It's all about coercion."
She nodded with a bright smile of her own. "I've heard he was hard. Stubborn Xander is hard to deal with. You just have to out-wait the pout."
"I ignore pouts," Oz told her. "I'm a strict mom and Guide." She snorted. "It's the same thing, really. I tell him to eat, to go to class, and I play with him." She gave him a knowing look. "Not like that," he groaned. "I'm still straight."
"Of course," she said quickly. "I thought you meant rolling on the floor laughing and playing sort of fun."
He nodded. "Sometimes."
"Did you ever try to write?" she blurted, then blushed. "Forget it, it doesn't matter."
"I did, it got returned. I thought you didn't want it." She shook her head. "I have it at home, I'll send it again if you'll give me your address."
"I'd like that," she said with a small smile. "I'd like to stay friends." He nodded. "Really?"
"Yup, would like to be friends." He reached over to pat her hand. "Want to find them before he takes Sascha and hides her?"
"Sure. I like her, she's neat and nice, and stuff."
"Thanks." He gave her a brief hug after they stood.
Xander smiled across the table at Oz's girlfriend. "They needed to work it out. I hate being in the middle."
Sascha smile. "They're coming up to Rainier."
Xander pulled her over for a hug. "Oz won't go back to her, even if she left Tara. They won't work as well now."
She gave him a mega-watt smile. "I wasn't worried." He nodded, grinning back. "But thanks."
"Welcome as always. Eat, don't waste nummy, greasy treats."
"Yes, dear," she said, then cracked up laughing. He smiled and shook his head, snickering.
Devon walked into Xander's room, shoving him. "Hey!"
"Wshmm?" Xander sat up, looking at him in confusion. "Huh?"
"Oz is out, you need to go find him with me."
Xander scrambled out of the bed, grabbing clothes to pull on. He stepped into his sneakers, grabbing the tranq gun from the vampire's hand. "Stay here and guard the bobsy twins." He ran out of the cabin, leaping off the porch. He checked inside the van, memorizing the scent, then took off into the woods after it. "I don't want to be Jim," he muttered as he ran. He stopped, using his hearing and smell together to search. He took a small side path, heading for the river. When he got to the sandy bank, he went to one knee to look at all the tracks, tracking the way Oz had paced beside the slowly moving water. He followed the trail of tracks, jogging after them down another small path heading for the camping part of the campground. He stopped at the small growl, letting his mind flow back into his innate abilities, and smiled. "Oz?" he whispered sing-songly. "Don't make me become Jim to hunt you." The leaves to his right rattled but he didn't move, the Oz-smell was farther away and on his left. He moved toward the growl, tranqing the darkest shadow as it moved. Oz yipped.
Xander jogged forward, tucking the tranq gun into the back of his pants as he grabbed the familiar furry ankles. He dragged Oz closer to the river and set up a camp, lighting a small fire so they would be comfortable and safe. He sat there, watching the still form, guarding it from harm and from doing harm.
Oz woke with a groan, rubbing over his face. He rolled onto his side, wincing as his back popped loudly in the still woods. "Xander?" he asked in surprise, looking at him.
"You figured out door latches," Xander said. He scooted over, pulling the bare body closer to the fire. "Get warm and we'll go back." Oz nodded, shifting some on the sand. "You okay?" Xander asked quietly, staring in the green eyes.
"As long as I didn't attack anyone," Oz said. He looked down at his bare body. "How're we getting back?"
"It's before six am, we'll walk." Xander took off his jacket and handed it over. "This'll help."
Oz slid into the softly lined, warm material. "Thanks." He scooped up some dirt, pouring it over the burning twigs. Xander helped, pouring some water over the dirt and kicking it around to make sure it was really out. They headed back to the cabin, Oz picking his way carefully along the trails.
Devon pounced on them as they walked in, patting Oz then Xander down. "Where were you? I was ready to come look for you."
"I built a small fire and watched him," Xander said through a yawn. "I'm going to bed." He trudged down the short hallway, kicking off his shoes and falling into bed still dressed. He felt both sides of the bed dip and groaned.
Oz got under the covers, fluffing the blankets over Xander's body. "Night, Xan." He got a grunt in reply.
Devon tucked them both in, giving them worried looks. "I'll tell the guys to listen for things." Oz nodded.
"He didn't have time," Xander mumbled through his pillow. "He spent tons of time at the river and was heading for the tents when I found him."
Devon smiled. "That's good then." He left them alone, closing the door softly.
"Yeah, he did good," Oz said, shifting so he could rub down the covered back. "Can you sleep dressed?"
"No, but it's safer," Xander mumbled. Oz grunted and rolled away from him. "I don't want to jump you," he said, turning his head to look at his guide.
"Xander, we'll be fine. You haven't jumped me yet." The younger man nodded. "You have?"
"Woke up against you yesterday."
"I didn't mind." He looked over the stiff body, worrying at what it meant this time. "What?"
"Sleep," Devon called.
Oz shook his head. "Xander, you're not going to jump me, I promise. Strip." Xander stood up and stripped slowly, not intentionally drawing it out but his hesitation was clear. "Come on," he said quietly, lifting the covers so the younger man could crawl back under them. He snuggled against the warm body, wrapping himself around Xander's body. "Relax," he whispered, blinking to try and stay awake.
"Don't want to hurt you," Xander murmured as he wrapped himself around Oz's body as far as he could.
"I won't let you."